Australian Open: Top 10 Stories—Farewell Federer, Hello Madison


1. ROGER STRIKES OUT: Picasso once kicked over a can of paint. Federer lost a tennis match and, for the first time in 12 years, will not reach an Aussie Open semi. It’s been 14 Slams since Roger has won.

2. MADISON KEYS—FUTURE GIRL: It wasn’t just that Madison Keys knocked out two-time Wimbledon champ and No. 4 Petra Kvitova. It was the way the 19 year old did it. Hitting huge, moving well, returning serve with confidence, and feeling “weirdly calm” when she had to close out the match, Keys played like a champion. Then again, three years ago Chris Evert said the raw kid from Illinois was the future of tennis. Now fans are wondering, “Is the future now?”

3. PURR VENUS PURR: First Venus Williams tells us that she is as “old as the dinosaurs,” but confides, “This old cat has a few tricks left in the bag.” Well, purr Venus purr. The second-best player in the Williams family beat Caroline Wozniacki to win in Brisbane and is undefeated this year. Her first three-set match win at a Slam in years brought her to the second week of a Slam for the first time since 2011, warming countless hearts.

4. AMERICAN SURGE: US tennis fans have “slump fatigue.” We’re tired of talking about America’s prolonged slump. Aside from Serena, we haven’t had a Slam winner since Andy Roddick. We have no truly elite stars, no Slam wins since ‘03 and no Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe or Connors to fire us up. But finally a cadre of Yankees stepped up. Nine players—including the Williams sisters—reached the third round, and the Madisons (Madison Keys and cancer survivor Madison Brengle) faced off in the fourth round. Now Keys, Venus, and Serena have made it to the quarters. This best-in-years surge prompted Keys to say, “Lots of fun. Go USA!”

5. NADAL’S NIGHTMARE: Rafa Nadal’s second-round match against Tim Smyczek had everything: a Goliath of the game who had won 14 Slams; a diminutive David-like battler with liquid speed and slingshot groundies; a bad fan who called out at crunch time, and a good player whose sportsmanship will always be remembered.  Never mind that one player was No. 3 in the world and one was No. 112—there wasn’t much of a gap between one of the greatest players in history and the ATP’s most avid Green Bay Packer fan. Rafa was dizzy and dazed, but ultimately the mighty Spanish warrior dug deep and found just enough to down the little-known Badger basher from Wisconsin. Nadal’s performance wasn’t an exquisite triumph for the record books, but it will be etched in our memory of brave battles.

6. UPSETTING DEVELOPMENTS: On the women’s side, eleven seeds lost in the first round, tying an upsetting record that had been in the books since 2001. The loss of No. 5 seed Ana Ivanovic to No. 142 Lucie Hradecka was the earliest by a top five seed since 2003. Then a fellow named Federer fell, as did the Bryan brothers.

7. AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE, OI OI OI: Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis, 18, won the most dramatic men’s first-round match, dispatching No. 11 Ernests Gulbis. But the victory celebration was just one of many by record Aussie crowds, who cheered as legend Lleyton Hewitt won a match and Bernie Tomic played well. Most of all, charismatic Nick Kyrgios beat Andreas Seppi to set up a spicy Commonwealth battle with Brit Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. Kyrgios is not at all like your grandfather’s Aussie champ, classy in white gear and by the book like Ken Rosewall. He’s his own man—new, modern, and confidently irreverent. He cares (and wants to win) but doesn’t care (what others think). He is interesting and drips charisma. He’s doing it his way. Few others have a better roar. He’s young, lanky, emotional. His haircut is cool, emotions hot. He dresses in bold splashes of neon. His shoes are beyond bright. So is his future. For Nick, it’s grunt and blast: blur serve, howitzer forehand. Whatever consistency is, it’s not Nick Kyrgios. Brilliance and blunders mix with a maddening frequency in his game, but then again, Einstein couldn’t tie his shoes. Kyrgios explodes with potential. We ask, “Is he our game’s next It Guy?”

8. WHIRLY BURLY TWIRLY: Was the dust-up about young Genie Bouchard being asked to twirl after winning the silliest sports controversy ever, or a subtle, but revealing commentary on sexism? Serena said Roger and Rafa wouldn’t be asked to twirl. Genie said it was no bother for her to twirl, as long as the guys were asked to flex their muscles. We’ll have an update at six—or maybe not.

9. A SPORTING GESTURE: We talk of superbrats and vain, preening superstars who are brands unto themselves. In the you vs. me Darwinian world of pro tennis, often the message is “Just win, baby.” But Tim Smyczek proved civility and sportsmanship are far from dead. Deep into the fifth set of a second-round match, when the upset-minded Smyzcek was down 6-5 to Rafa Nadal, a thoughtless fan yelled out as Nadal served. Rafa’s serve was errant, but Tim was right on when he told the Spaniard to serve again. Smyczek lost the match but won a legion of fans.

10. MARIA SQUEAKER: Last year in the third round, Li Na was within an inch of being eliminated by Lucie Safarova, but survived and came back to capture the title. Now we wonder, will Maria Sharapova do the same? After all, she’s proven time and again that the greatest of champions somehow find a way to win, even when they are stinking up the gym. Maria probably shouldn’t have had trouble with No. 152 Alexandra Panova. The Putin pal rarely loses to fellow Russians, or falls early in Slams, and hasn’t been defeated by a player outside the top 150 in over four years. Maria won the first set in 26 minutes—this was stealing Sugarpova from a baby. But then her level dipped and Panova stepped up, winning the second set and going up 4-1 in the decider. That’s when the greatest fighter in women’s tennis not named Serena willed her way back to a stunning 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 win. So what else is new? Maria is Siberia-tough. But is she tough enough to beat young Genie Bouchard and go on to claim her sixth Slam?